By Anthony Hanson
AMES – No. 3 seeded Iowa State women’s basketball’s ticket to the sweet sixteen is a little extra sweet.
After a 67-44 win over No. 6 seeded Georgia, head coach Bill Fennelly’s team has passed the second-round mark haunted its offseason and drove its summer workouts.
The 2021 Iowa State season ended in the round of 32. In San Antonio, Texas, the Cyclones fell to No. 2 seed Texas A&M in overtime. A loss that would be demoralizing for most teams quickly became bulletin board material, said head coach Bill Fennelly.
“It was more of a reminder of possibilities and opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of,” Fennelly said prior to a first-round tilt with UT Arlington. “I think our team understand that, and certainly the leadership of our team understand it.”
The final score of 84-82 was left on the scoreboard of the Iowa State practice facility. It could be seen from Fennelly’s office throughout the off season. The adage “Remember the Alamo” was printed on T-shirts and posted on signs in the Cyclone facility. It served as a visual remember, Fennelly said, of the purpose for workouts in June, July and August.
“To our kids’ credit, we got to this point,” Fennelly said.
Now, the Cyclones head to Greensboro, S. Car., one point further in its postseason journey.
Iowa State will play Creighton in the sweet sixteen for the first time since 2010.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever wanted something professionally more in my life than to see these guys have that opportunity, Fennelly said postgame.
More notable is how exactly Fennelly’s team advanced.
“They were phenomenal tonight,” Fennelly said. “On both ends of the floor.”
After scoring 70 combined points in Friday’s first round matchup, the Iowa State trio of Lexi Donarski, Emily Ryan and Ashley Joens scored 47 of Iowa State’s 67 points. After playing forty minutes each a game-ago, the three Iowa State leaders checked out for the first time with just over one minute remaining in the game.
The three student-athletes were mentally prepared for Sunday’s contest and, according to Fennelly, leading by example.
Iowa State scratched and clawed its way past UT Arlington in the Friday evening after a slow first quarter. But facing the Bulldogs, the Iowa State lineup executed the game plan from start to finish.
“Georgia’s a really talented team,” Donarski said postgame. “We had to set the tone –especially defensively— really early, and that just pushed us forward on offense.”
Iowa State led 9-0 with 6:49 to go in the first quarter. The Cyclones’ first seven points came off three steals forced by a zone defense. A zone isn’t the identity of the Iowa State defense, Fennelly said. But with one day of preparation, Fennelly prepared his with the help of a wise team that understands the game.
“When you have a team led by Em, Lex and Ash, sometimes you just get the hell out of the way,” Fennelly said. “Those three were ready to go and the whole team was ready to go because of those three.”
Donarski was the night’s leading scoring with 20 points. The point guard Ryan added nine assists to her career total. She eclipsed the Iowa State school assist record in the win. In a relatively slow night, Joens produced 12 points along with 10 rebounds.
Donarski connected four times from beyond the arc. At halftime, the Cyclones were shooting 7 for 13 from three-point range and were enjoying a 37-18 lead. Iowa State shot 57 percent from the three-throw line against UT Arlington. Against Georgia, Iowa State was 14 for 20 from the charity stripe.
Georgia’s leading scorer Jenna Staiti scored 16 points on 47 percent shooting. Iowa State limited the 6-foot 4-inch center’s post touches with double teams from the zone defense. Que Morrison was the only other Bulldog in double figures with 10 points.
Georgia scored a season-low 44 points.
“[In 2021] We were one play away from where we are now,” Ryan said. “Seeing the next game where A&M was playing, it made it hurt even more but caused us to work even harder.”
The loss in San Antonio lingered. But Iowa State now moves on to the sweet sixteen after winning its final game of the season at Hilton Coliseum. It’s the sixth sweet sixteen birth in program history and the first in over a decade.
“This is a unique place,” Fennelly said.
“There are limitations that we have here, but we don’t have any limitation in people and purpose.”
By Anthony Hanson